Eastern Style: Bonsai Trees

bonsai

Japanese culture and style has fascinated me for years – I’m enchanted by Japanese woodblock prints, paper lanterns and screens, beautiful tea sets, and everything in between. One of my absolute favorite facets of Japanese culture is the cultivation of miniature trees, or bonsai trees. I will not pretend to be an authority on caring for bonsai trees. I can only claim to be a fervent enthusiast at best, but I have a serious interest and the intention of improving my caregiving skills! RIP those bonsai trees that have already met their end at my hands…

Bonsai literally means “tray-plant”, aptly named because the miniature trees are planted in very shallow trays, which restrict the tree’s root growth. As the trees grow, their branches are shaped, or “trained” with wire to create the desired visual effect. Bonsai trees have been grown in Asia for over a thousand years and there are many avid connoisseurs today. These miniature trees provide an incredible aesthetic element to an apartment if you’re up for the challenge. I say challenge because, as one of my bonsai books stated, they are like the show poodle of the plant world. They require consistent daily care and careful attention to surroundings. However the end result is fascinating and rewarding, lasting years if taken care of properly. Amazingly, some bonsai trees even outlived their owners.

There are many different types of bonsai trees – basically any type of tree can be miniaturized, but there are specific popular breeds. Junipers are the most readily available, probably because they are the easiest to take care of. They are hardy and do well in most climates. Other evergreens are also popular, but some of the most beautiful ones are red maple trees and flowering varieties. The best way to find a good starter bonsai is to contact a local nursery or bonsai club and talk to someone about it. Larger nurseries may have a horticulturist who specializes in bonsai care. I also recommend doing some research online and in the library. Each type of tree requires different soil and daily care, so it is best to know what you are getting yourself into.

With the right care and attention, bonsai trees create beautiful silhouettes in any apartment and are even good conversation starters. For care and information on breeds, check out this website.

For some seriously impressive bonsai inspiration (these are some of the most impressive bonsais in the world!) look here.

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